No matter the organization, the tried-and-true “annual dinner and awards banquet” formula is certainly a reliable way to tie a bow on one year and look ahead to the next. But, despite their positive attributes, such events usually held in large rooms with a microphone and a podium and a table full of plaques can, after a while, become a bit predictable...stale, even.

    The United Way of Crookston for many years held an annual dinner and awards banquet, but it stood up to the test of time better than maybe some other organizations because at the heart of the event and mission of the agency itself was the distribution of allocation checks for the United Way’s many local and area community partner agencies. If you were there, every year you could see an unmistakable example of the United Way in action and having a positive impact on the community: Thanks to contributions from individuals and businesses, actual money was actually being given to many agencies who do good things for all kinds of people who are struggling for whatever reason or otherwise need some level of support in order to, hopefully, change their lives for the better.

    In recent years, the United Way of Crookston’s annual event transitioned into a “Spring Fling.” It was a good event and people still were recognized for their excellent efforts and community partner agencies still got their checks. But something was missing: Actual, real-life examples of how the United Way of Crookston, thanks to generous community support, was able to do good things by supporting its many partner agencies year after year.

    In a positive twist, those real-life examples were back in the spotlight at the local United Way’s “Wine Social” last Thursday evening at the Crookston Inn & Convention Center, an event that also served as an opportunity to distribute checks and present awards.

    Representatives of basically every community partner agency were encouraged to tell stories, and not simply in the form of a few kind words said into the microphone about the agency’s mission, etc. No, we’re talking specific, detailed stories of struggling individuals, from very young to very old, who have seen a glimmer of hope in their lives because of the United Way of Crookston and its supporting community.

    It was all very touching, and there were tears in the ballroom. United Way Executive Director Lori Wagner basically had to wipe tears from her eyes, constantly,  for the better part of an hour.

    The stories also provided valuable perspective, on two fronts. For one, if you think you have problems, try not knowing where you’re going to get your next bite to eat or where you’re going to sleep tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or the night after that. And, for another, if you ever find yourself getting down on your Crookston community, attend the local United Way’s annual event and you’ll be reminded hat you live in a great community, and you should feel fortunate and grateful for that, and much more.